WHAT, SOME curious readers have asked, were the Veney raids?
I'm older than I'd like to think. At one time, most Baltimoreans knew what the Veney raids were. As those of us in the baby boomer generation get older, we assume those younger know what we know. We assume that events from December 1964 are common knowledge. But they aren't.
Sam and Earl Veney robbed a liquor store in December 1964. The two black men also shot two police officers, killing one. They were caught and convicted. But the police manhunt in Baltimore for the Veney brothers became almost as infamous as their crimes. Without warrants, police broke into scores of homes in black neighborhoods. (Some put the number as high as 300.) Some critics protested that the raids were a widespread violation of civil liberties. Federal courts and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had to get involved.
In a recent column, I referred to the Veney raids as "notorious." One man who remembers the raids well - much better than 13-year-old Gregory Kane could have - took umbrage with the use of the word. He's Paul Lioi, now retired and living in Florida. In December 1964 he was 25-year-old Officer Paul Lioi of the Baltimore Police Department. He sent this letter to The Sun:
"That [notorious] remark hit a sensitive chord with me," Lioi wrote. "Let's go back to 1964. It was Christmas Eve, and the children of two police officers wrapped their fathers' gifts and went to bed and could hardly wait until morning when their daddies would return home from work to open their gifts and celebrate Christmas together. This was not to be, because one daddy, a police lieutenant, was shot and wounded during a hold-up at a liquor store on Greenmount Avenue.
"And later that same day, the second daddy, a police sergeant, was killed. Neither family celebrated Christmas that day, and for one family, Christmas and every day thereafter, the dad would no longer be with them. The investigation at the robbery scene revealed that the suspects responsible for the robbery and shooting of a police lieutenant were the Veney brothers. As the police went looking for the brothers one of [them] shot and killed a police sergeant. Two police officers shot, one seriously wounded and one killed. They happened to be my lieutenant and sergeant.
"The police department went on a manhunt to try and locate and apprehend these police assassins known as the Veney brothers. They felt compelled to follow up on any lead they received. The tips they received came from the black community. I was part of the raiding party and felt that the tips received were authentic."
It's 37 years later, and Lioi - who won four Bronze Stars, a Distinguished Service Medal and the Medal of Honor in his police career - knows that many of the tips were nowhere near authentic.
"Most turned out to be bogus," Lioi said yesterday from his Orlando home. The reason baffles him. This was a search for cop-shooters.
"Why," Lioi wondered, "were they giving us these bogus tips?"
Lioi also feels empathy with those who lived in the raided homes.
"Come to think of it," he said, "it was a bad thing. We had our guns pointed at the houses. We weren't going to walk up to a suspect and say, 'Sir, are you Mr. Veney?'"
Lioi says he arrested one of the Veney brothers - he doesn't remember which one - several months before that fateful Christmas Eve. He and his partner - whose regular beat included the liquor store that was robbed - were off the night the store was robbed. He often wonders what would have happened if they had been working instead of Lt. Joseph Maskell, who was wounded in the liquor store robbery, and Sgt. Jack Lee Cooper, whom Sam Veney fatally shot after Cooper confronted him in East Baltimore.
"He was a decent guy, a real gentleman," Lioi said of Cooper. "His death just about ruined my Christmas. I went up to my room and closed my door because I didn't want my children to see a grown man cry. And I did."
Other memories of his East Baltimore beat are happier. He remembers when he was "fighting some mental case" and, unable to call for assistance, finally received it when concerned residents called for him. And he became a fan of legendary black comedian Jackie "Moms" Mabley while walking his beat on the graveyard shift.
"It was about two in the morning," Lioi recalled. "I was walking by this house and the door was open. I heard a comedian doing a routine."
He listened a bit and was delighted to hear one of the funniest comedians he'd ever come across in his life. A woman who lived in the house told him who it was and where to buy the album. The next day, Lioi was in a store on Greenmount Avenue, buying it.
When his beat-walking days were over, he was promoted to sergeant and later became a detective with the arson squad. He retired in 1984 after 23 years on the force.
Lioi offers no apologies for his role in the Veney raids. It was mischievous tipsters, he insists, who were responsible. But that may be why the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was critical of the raids. Federal judges realize that any crackpot can give a tip and lead even good cops to do bad things.